Academic journal article URISA Journal

Neogeographic Tools to Create Open-Access Data: Mapping Vacant Land Parcels in Detroit

Academic journal article URISA Journal

Neogeographic Tools to Create Open-Access Data: Mapping Vacant Land Parcels in Detroit

Article excerpt


Recent government online data provision initiatives, such as www. and, promise to create a new era of data access for citizens. Citizens now are able to access a large quantity of information, including geospatial, demographic, and time-series data that has been collected by various government agencies (Ganapati 2011). Concurrently, a proliferation of analysis tools, such as Google Earth, have been targeted toward nonexperts or "neogeographers" (Haklay, Singleton, and Parker 2008; Hudson-Smith, Crooks, Gibin, Milton, and Batty 2009; Turner 2006). Both this increased availability of data and the recent development of user-friendly tools have facilitated the innovative use of data for planning-related applications such as volunteer mapping (Tulloch 2008), local community development (Zimmerman and Meyer 2005), emergency services (Cinnamon and Schuurman 2010), and public participation (Kingston, Carver, Evans, and Turton 2000; Rinner and Bird 2009). This bottom-up use of government-provided geospatial information can be considered a partial realization of Talen's (2000) proposed "resident-generated GIS," a system that more appropriately fulfills the needs of citizenry as opposed to those of centralized planning.

Despite this current trend toward public access of government data, there are still many topics and issues on which governments do not collect the data necessary to support community-planning activities. One approach for citizen groups to overcome this lack of data is to act as "citizen sensors" and collect their own data that can best address their needs (Goodchild 2007). Using the tools and approaches of neogeography, community groups can remove their reliance on trickle-down data provided by governments and extract information of interest from freely available datasets and imagery (Budhathoki, Bruce, and Nedovic-Budic 2008). This type of do-it-yourself approach is the essence of neogeography and represents a level of citizen engagement in planning issues that moves beyond participation to activism (Carver 2003, Sieber 2004, Talen 2000).

This paper describes a simplified method of digital orthophoto interpretation and digitizing using Google Earth imagery to delineate areas of apparently vacant land in two neighborhoods of Detroit, Michigan. Understanding the extent of vacant land is an important issue for Detroit, for the city has experienced dramatic reductions in population and housing stock, resulting in the degradation of the urban fabric of communities (Ryan 2006). Gathering data to quantify the extent of vacant land can be used to target areas for redevelopment, potentially as urban farms, one proposed solution to reuse of vacant land (Pothukuchi 2004). More generally, this method of data collection can be used by citizens, community organizations, and neogeographers in any setting where land-use data or land-cover data is not readily available to the public or access to information is restricted or where there are limited resources for purchasing data. This paper aims to illustrate the value of neogeographic tools and their potential utility for communities through facilitating data access, an important step toward allowing citizens to better advocate their positions in the planning process.


Recent research argues that citizens can generate "volunteered geographic information" (VGI), a type of valuable asserted data that may offer greater insight and be more relevant than "official" or government-collected data (Elwood 2009, Goodchild 2007, Tulloch 2008). There is an important and often unrealized role for citizen participation in the generation of geospatial data (Budhathoki et al. 2008; Hall, Chipeniuk, Feick, Leahy, and Deparday 2010; Kingston et al. 2000). Citizen-generated data can be particularly detailed and more relevant to the local context and issues than data collected by national or regional governments (Newman et al. …

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